Virtual Call Center – What It Means, and How It Differs From Traditional Centers
By Allan Purdue
The term has become widespread, but exactly what is a virtual call center?
Let’s begin by examining the concept of traditional centers and how they are used.
We will then delve into how the virtual equivalent differs in operation, and what the benefits can be of switching to a virtual configuration.
What is a Traditional Call Center?
The simplest definition of this term is: a group of people who make and/or receive calls for a given purpose, which can be but is not necessarily commercial in nature.
What are they Designed to Do?
Call centers can be used for many purposes. Business uses include:
- telemarketing, such as outbound sales prospecting
- receiving inbound sales inquiries
- providing inbound and outbound customer support
- connecting and assisting employees
- conducting surveys
- informing existing customers of new products/services
- following up/touching base with existing prospects, to help stay top of mind
However, they are not used only by businesses. Many non-profit organizations, hospitals, emergency personnel and various other parties use these centers to manage their call flow and ensure that urgent calls are quickly attended to and routed to the proper party.
If you have ever had reason to call 911, you’ve spoken to call center staff. You most likely heard “911, what is your emergency” or a similar question. This is an excellent example of such a center at work. You were briefly in a queue, your call was routed to an employee, they quickly gathered the information, and they then dispatched your information (hopefully!) to the appropriate party.
Survey and statistics organizations also employ call centers to gather useful data on a wide range of subjects. Employees in centers such as these might be placing outbound calls to gauge public opinion on important issues, collect general demographic information, perform market research, and more.
Even political parties use them. During election seasons, hundreds of call centers spring up across the US and Canada. The staff place canvassing calls to constituents, hoping to elicit voter support for a given candidate.
What are the Differences between traditional and Virtual Call Centers?
Simply put, a virtual call center offers a number of important differences and advantages as compared to its traditional equivalent. We’ll briefly list these in a top-level view, and then explore each in further detail.
- Decentralization/work from anywhere
- Cost savings
- Manager control and tracking
- Ease of maintenance and changes
Decentralization/work from anywhere: In a virtual configuration, center staff can work from nearly any physical location, in contrast to a traditional setup in which staff must work from a central office. The benefits are numerous: elimination of commute time; savings on vehicle costs; savings on a range of office costs; more flexible work schedules; and environmental benefits such as reduced vehicle emissions, office waste, hydro usage and more.
Cost savings: With a virtual configuration for a call center, cost savings can be realized in a variety of areas. One major factor is capital outlay for initial deployment – in a traditional setup, companies typically must purchase a complex and therefore expensive on-premise PBX system, pay for installation and hardware, and, in addition, still have to purchase software and possibly per-seat licenses to integrate advanced features such as tracking and reporting tools. The virtual configuration eliminates many of these costs by using a web-based service to deliver the same features and functionality as an on-premise alternative. In addition, quality virtual call center management software allows administrators to complete initial configuration themselves, eliminating the need for a potentially costly on-site technician.
Manager control and tracking: Crucial to success is the ability to track and measure agent performance. Good virtual call center software allows managers to track and produce reports on a variety of metrics, such as average hold time, number of calls answered vs. abandoned, time spent on each call, and more.
Scalability: As with initial configuration, growth and expansion present potential costs and logistical considerations. A virtual call center configuration can significantly reduce these costs by allowing administrators to quickly and easily add members to their staff via a simple web interface. This approach saves money by removing the need for another technician visit, and also saves valuable staff time by greatly simplifying the addition of a new staff member.
Ease of maintenance and changes: Most centers will experience the need to modify or “tweak” their configuration as they gain experience in handling calls and identify more efficient means of conducting business. A robust web interface, as previously mentioned, is again of great benefit. Administrators and managers can for example easily change the center’s call flow, add new prompts to existing auto-attendants, shuffle the priority of staff in a queue, or determine where unanswered calls are sent.
We hope you have found our initial article on virtual call centers to be informative and helpful and we invite you to peruse our subsequent articles on the topic as they are published.